SOUTHWEST REGION SWEET 16 PREVIEW
Site: San Antonio
The Southwest region was full of upsets as seven of the 12 games ended with the lower-seeded team winning. As a result, the only single-digit seed still alive is No. 1 Kansas. The remaining teams are No. 10-seed Florida State, No. 11-seed VCU and No. 12-seed Richmond. VCU coach Shaka Smart has become something of a media darling after guiding his team through a play-in game with USC and two seemingly easy victories over Georgetown and Purdue. It's not supposed to be that easy, yet Richmond and Florida State also registered double-digit victories over their opponents in the round of 32. What's yet to come surely will be special as one double-digit seed is guaranteed to make the Elite Eight.
No. 12 Richmond vs. No. 1 Kansas
Key Matchup: Richmond's 2-3 zone defense against Kansas' offense will be interesting to watch. If it's effective, the Spiders will force the Jayhawks to shoot outside and take away the Morris twins, which is exactly how you beat Kansas. Of course, Bill Self has seen a 2-3 zone a few times in his day and will have his team ready. Most likely, the Jayhawks will beat it by scoring in transition or putting Marcus Morris in the middle where he's already comfortable. Either way, it should be interesting to see if Chris Mooney's team can shut off Kansas' main offensive weapons and put the ball in the guards' hands.
Richmond will Win IF: it neutralizes the Morris twins with Justin Harper and Dan Geriot. The Morris twins are nightmares for almost any opponent, but the Spiders potentially matchup well with the 6-foot-10 Harper and 6-9 Geriot. If those two can slow Marcus and Markieff and force the offense to run through the guards, they have a decent shot at slowing the Kansas offense and winning the game. In Kansas' two losses this season, its leading scorer was Tyrel Reed.
Kansas will Win If: it defends Richmond's 3-point shooing. It's no secret the Spiders like to take a lot of three-pointers, and they should as they hit almost 40 percent from beyond the arc. In the first round, Vanderbilt failed to check Richmond's Kevin Anderson, and he made Vandy pay with three consecutive three-pointers to swing the score from 42-48 to 51-48. And from there Richmond never looked back. If Kansas can force the Spiders to go inside with Harper and Geriot, that will play into the hands of the Morris twins.
Player to Watch: Richmond's Justin Harper. Harper is the team's leading three-point shooter, and at 6-10 he creates matchup nightmares. If Kansas puts a guard on him, he'll shoot right over him. If they put a Morris twin on him, he'll draw the twin outside and take away his size advantage down low. He'll get one of the Morris twins as his defensive assignment, so Harper has the potential to impact this game on both ends.
Prediction: Kansas will advance to the Elite Eight. The Jayhawks have too many interchangeable parts (see Thomas Robinson, Mario Little and Josh Selby), defend the three-point line well and have a coach who's been there before in Bill Self.
No. 11 VCU vs. No. 10 Florida State
Key Matchup: Jamie Skeen's matchup with Chris Singleton will be crucial to this game as Skeen is VCU's top scorer and Singleton is FSU's top defender. Skeen is a 6-9 senior with size, range and shot-blocking ability. Through three tournament games, he has averaged more than 13 points a game on 50-percent shooting from the field. If he can score against Singleton, who is as athletic as they come yet coming off a foot injury, he'll give his team a great chance at winning this game. If not, it'll be up to Bradford Burgess to initiate the offense in the post.
VCU will Win IF: it hits its three-point shots. The Rams get more than 34 percent of their scoring from shots behind the three-point line, and through their first three games in the tournament, they've hit more than 41 percent on three-pointers. If Joey Rodriguez, Brandon Rozell and Bradford Burgess continue to make shots, the Rams can hang with anyone offensively. Florida State has the 10th-best three-point field-goal percentage defense in the nation, so this will be especially important in this game.
Florida State will Win If: it continues to play suffocating defense. In the Seminoles' win over Notre Dame, they held the Irish to just 30.6 percent shooting, while in their win over Texas A&M, they held the Aggies to just 31.4 percent shooting. Their defensive prowess should come as no surprise to anyone as they led the nation in field-goal percentage defense this season. Top defender Chris Singleton has played a combined 26 minutes through his first two games back from a foot injury, but as he gets more comfortable, his minutes should increase, thus making FSU even harder to score against.
Player to Watch: VCU's Joey Rodriguez. Rodriguez is the point guard for this VCU team, and his ability to see the floor is key to its success. He starts the fast-break offense and often helps set up his teammates for open three-pointers in transition. Against Purdue, he had 11 assists and no turnovers, putting him at 23 assists and only three turnovers for the tournament.
Prediction: Florida State will advance to the Elite Eight to face Kansas. The best unit on the court is FSU's defense, and at the end of the day, it will stop VCU's 3-point shooting and end the Rams' magical run.